Sunday, March 8, 2015

#135: "Testimony Through Trials".

A few weeks ago, one of our good friends shared the following talk about maintaining a testimony through trials, With her permission, I would like to share the talk with you.

I am so glad to be on the earth today. The gospel is rolling forth to fill the earth and we look forward to the second coming of Jesus Christ. But with all the wonderful things that are happening, we also know that life brings trials for everyone. It is a necessary part of our progression and the Plan of Happiness. These trials come in many different forms and they try our testimony of Jesus Christ. The bishop asked me to share with you today how we can strive to maintain a testimony through difficult times.

I’ve spent my whole life building a testimony. It is a process that I continue today. I’ve had many wonderful teachers, friends, and family members who have influenced me for good. My testimony comes through diligence in doing all the things I was taught in Primary: prayer, scripture study, church and temple attendance. Those things never change.

President Uchtdorf said of testimonies, “"Let us acknowledge that most often gaining a testimony is not a task of a minute, an hour, or a day. It is not once and done. The process of gathering spiritual light is the quest of a lifetime...Some may say that the steps are too hard or that they are not worth the effort. But I suggest that this personal testimony of the gospel and the Church is the most important thing you can earn in this life. It will not only bless and guide you during this life, but it will also have a direct bearing on your life throughout eternity” (“Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth,” Oct 2014 General Conference).
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
This past week I pondered some different personal trials and how my testimony helped me through them. I selected three that I would like to talk on: parenting, standing for truth, and losing a loved one.

First, I will start with parenting, which is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. When I first became a mother, my husband and I were living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We were far from family and had limited communication with them, not like we have today. I remember feeling stressed and worried about taking care of my first child. First of all, would she survive? Was she eating enough? Was she supposed to cry that much? How do we get her to sleep? Over time my worries shifted from the children’s physical needs, to their spiritual and emotional needs and character development. Would I be a good mother?

Elder Neil L. Andersen taught how we can face difficult situations, “How do you remain “steadfast and immovable” during a trial of faith? You immerse yourself in the very things that helped build your core of faith: you exercise faith in Christ, you pray, you ponder the scriptures, you repent, you keep the commandments, and you serve others” (“Trial of Your Faith,” Oct 2012 General Conference).
Elder Neil L. Andersen
I continued to study my scriptures and pray daily, just like I had done for so many years, and that brought me strength. It is amazing how reading the same passage of scripture, even the most unlikely passage, can bring very different answers to you at certain times in your life. During that first month of my daughter’s life, I was in the book of Alma reading about Ammon’s mission to the Lamanites. This scripture spoke peace to me one morning over eleven years ago and still speaks to me today in the midst of raising six kids and the many challenges that come with it.

“But behold, my beloved brethren, we came into the wilderness not with the intent to destroy our brethren, but with the intent that perhaps we might save some few of their souls. Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success. And now behold, we have come, and been forth amongst them; and we have been patient in our sufferings, and we have suffered every privation; yea, we have traveled from house to house, relying upon the mercies of the world—not upon the mercies of the world alone but upon the mercies of God” (Alma 26:26-28).
The prophet/missionary Ammon defending King Lamoni's flocks
As Nephi taught, I likened this scripture to myself: Saving souls is like bringing children into a temple marriage. Yes, there will be days when you will be depressed, feel in effective, overwhelmed by your weaknesses, and want to give up; but don’t turn back. Continue to be patient during your trials. If the Lord can use Ammon and his brethren to convert thousands of ferocious, hard-hearted Lamanites to the gospel, then He certainly has the power to help you raise righteous children. Rely on Jesus Christ, his mercy and his grace. And so I do, everyday as a parent.

Other trials may come when we are asked by church leaders to stand up for truth in the face of sometimes hostile opposition. During 2008 when we were living in Sacramento, the church asked the members in California to actively campaign for the passage of Proposition 8 to affirm traditional marriage. Not only were we asked to make significant financial contributions to this campaign, but also to contribute our time making phone calls, knocking doors, and displaying signs in yards and on street corners to bolster support for this measure.

Because of this, I knew that we would be subject to harsh criticism and considered by some to be bigots. People would judge us as unkind, unfair, and just plain mean. I took heat on social media from old high school friends and others. Other church members experienced vandalism and even lost their jobs over this campaign. I remember walking a neighborhood to distribute door hangers and passing our local ward building to find hundreds of Prop 8 signs stolen from people’s yard strewn all over the the church property. The intolerance towards our position was very upsetting. But Elder Andersen also taught: “Like the intense fire that transforms iron into steel, as we remain faithful during the fiery trial of our faith, we are spiritually refined and strengthened.”

Even though at times I wanted to shrink (and just quietly vote at the ballot box), I knew that our direction in this campaign was coming from the prophet. I knew the prophet was the mouthpiece for Jesus Christ on the earth. I knew that upholding traditional marriage was important in the church and in our society. There were bright moments along the way, where we united with neighbors of other faiths in our stance on marriage. I also had meaningful conversations with some voters on the phone about the importance of traditional marriage in society. I was sharing my testimony of marriage in that campaign.

In the end Prop 8 did pass, though later overturned, and I knew it was thanks to faithful Mormons all over the state who heeded the prophet’s call to defend traditional marriage. Being a part of the Prop 8 campaign turned into a spiritual experience for me, though a fiery one. I don’t think that is the end of battles we as church members must fight as the distance between the world’s view and the church’s view continues to widen.

It is helpful in these difficult situations to remember this teaching from Elder Andersen: “Our faith is centered in God, our Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. It is bolstered by our knowledge that the fullness of the gospel has been restored to the earth, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and that prophets and apostles today hold the keys of the priesthood. We treasure our faith, work to strengthen our faith, pray for increased faith, and do all within our power to protect and defend our faith.”

Finally, many go through the trial of losing a loved one, like we have recently in our own ward. This is one trial that I have not had to bear firsthand, but I marvel at those around me who have. As my husband shared in his talk a few months ago, we had the difficult experience of losing our Bishop’s young wife suddenly and unexpectedly over two years ago. This hit me so hard, because we were friends who lived on the same street, we were the exact same age, and had the same number of children, many of whose ages overlapped. For weeks, I mourned heavily over this loss because I knew the many things that I did for our family in our home. I didn’t understand why it had to happen. Why wasn’t she healed? Why was she appointed to die? I wondered how that family would survive this trial. How would they remain strong? How would they function from day to day? How could we as neighbors and friends help them?

I was touched when our stake president challenged us in this difficult time that instead of asking "why" and pondering the unfairness of the situation, that we should look for ways to be grateful for the time we spent with Kim and how she impacted our lives. This was great counsel. With prayer and gratitude for Kim’s life, we all pressed forward, just like we will do again in this ward. I prayed for that family with all my might and strength. I fulfilled every service opportunity given to me on their behalf.

The spirit told me that God had a plan for that family, even if I couldn’t see it. I knew God loved them immensely and I knew God loved Kim, even if he had to take her physically from the earth away from her children. After this painful loss, our ward and the extended family pulled together to supported them in every possible way. We watched as our bishop and his children never faltered in their church activity. He showed up the very next Sunday with all of his children to conduct sacrament meeting. It was the Primary Program and all of his children in Primary sang so valiantly. The spirit was so strong that day, and we were all lifted by the faith and testimony of that family.

Elder Andersen gives us life-saving counsel in our trials: “When faced with a trial of faith—whatever you do, you don’t step away from the Church! Distancing yourself from the kingdom of God during a trial of faith is like leaving the safety of a secure storm cellar just as the tornado comes into view….It is within the sanctuary of the Church that we protect our faith. Meeting together with others who believe, we pray and find answers to our prayers; we worship through music, share testimony of the Savior, serve one another, and feel the Spirit of the Lord. We partake of the sacrament, receive the blessings of the priesthood, and attend the temple. The Lord declared, ‘In the ordinances … , the power of godliness is manifest.’ When you are faced with a test of faith, stay within the safety and security of the household of God. There is always a place for you here. No trial is so large we can’t overcome it together”.

What a beautiful promise from an apostle of the Lord. I like how he uses the pronoun “we.” WE are in this together. At baptism we make that important covenant “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light... to mourn with those that mourn; and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9).

I know of many other stories like this throughout the church. Another example was shared in a past General Women’s Meeting where they showed a video of sisters from around the world sharing their testimony of the temple. One sister from Haiti shared the experience of losing all six of her children in a devastating earthquake. My heart just ached at the emptiness she must feel in their absence. But she continues to endure to the end, and she finds peace in attending the temple and praying to God. In General Conference Sister Jean A. Stevens taught, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a checklist of things to do; rather, it lives in our hearts. The gospel is not weight; it is wings. It carries us” (“Fear Not; I Am with Thee,” Apr 2014 General Conference).
Sister Jean A. Stevens
A strong testimony can carry all of us through our darkest days.

In closing, I know that most of us aren’t faced with monumental trials every day of our lives, but we must still make that daily effort to strengthen our testimonies. If we feel that we don’t have a testimony, or it is not as strong as we would like it to be, we can start today. The Lord will bless us in our sincere effort to gain a strong testimony. President Uchtdorf said encouragingly of receiving light and truth:

“The perfect place to begin is exactly where you are right now. It doesn’t matter how unqualified you may think you are or how far behind others you may feel. The very moment you begin to seek your Heavenly Father, in that moment, the hope of His light will begin to awaken, enliven, and ennoble your soul. The darkness may not dissipate all at once, but as surely as night always gives way to dawn, the light will come" (The Hope of God’s Light”, Apr 2013 General Conference).

I am thankful for a strong testimony of Jesus Christ and his gospel. I know my testimony is something that I will continue to build and strengthen my entire life. My testimony points me to Jesus Christ. I know it is through Jesus Christ and his grace that I can overcome the trials I face in this life. He is my rock and sure foundation (Helaman 5:12) that will anchor me in the storms of life. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.